This man (Russell Crowe) doesn't cope very well when things do not go his way, as is obvious from his behaviour when he spends an evening waiting outside his ex-wife's house, grabbing a hammer, smashing down the door and breaking in, whereupon he murders both her and her husband with said tool, and burns down the house. Not the sort of man it would be wise to cross, or even cross paths with, but Rachel (Caren Pistorius) doesn't know that when she sets off from her home that morning. She is going through a divorce herself, and it's not turning out too well though she has custody of her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman).
Both of them are living with her brother Fred (Austin P. McKenzie) and his fiancée, so things are already tense... And they will only grow tenser when the man and Rachel happen to meet on the road shortly after. Unhinged, a word describing Crowe's character, was not inappropriate, as he went all out to portray one of the most villainous of his characters with such gusto that for all your reservations this was merely a trashy thriller with no real merit, he obviously believed in the role so much that you would find yourself unexpectedly gripped.
You may start out by chuckling at the man's antics, he's that over the top, but by the grand finale you would be more gripped than something that featured such a low-rent, high concept premise by all rights should have. And much of that was down to Crowe, who during the Summer of 2020 did his best to save the movies. During that Summer, the blockbusters dried up significantly, to a standstill, thanks to the coronavirus global outbreak, with only really Christopher Nolan's Tenet making it to theatrical release for those who opted to brave the fears and dangers and attend it.
But Unhinged was out before it, and in an open field took the top spot in movie charts across the world, giving the struggling cinemas something to show that had an actual, proper star headlining it to make it feel as if they were not watching some indie that had chanced a release when business was so quiet. For that reason, this could be judged a hit, and a rare bright spot in a grim year for the industry, which was a curious comment to be making about a film that was so unimpressed with humanity and used that disappointment to construct its regularly erupting thrills and spills out of.
Unhinged was pretty basic as far as Carl Ellsworth's screenplay went. But he had form in that, having specialised in these affairs ever since his first hit Red Eye for Wes Craven over ten years before. There was a confidence here that went beyond the acknowledgement audiences would have that sometimes they would lose their temper in public and regret it, yet while Rachel regrets it the man assuredly does not. He positively (or negatively) relishes the opportunity for bad behaviour and victimisation, taking road rage so far as to make it personal. But not for him, as he remains the aggrieved victim in his twisted mind...
We never find out his name aside from a scene where he offers one that is probably a spur of the moment alias. And Rachel doesn't know the man from a hole in the ground. No, it's her, the actual victim who finds their personal life raked over for the maniacal amusement of the psychopath who has deigned her the perfect person to blame for his problems now his ex is out of the way. We are not told much more about him than that, and this anonymity (emulating the internet, which is a factor in the plot) renders him more formidable, that "it could happen to you" randomness holding the power. It wouldn't make you feel better about people, but it went like a rocket. Pistorius did look too young for her middle-aged role, however. Throbbing music by David Buckley.
[On EST, VOD, DVD, Blu-ray & iTunes in 4K from 23 November 2020.
There's a chatty featurette and an audio commentary on the Blu-ray.]